College: Princeton University
It is a very difficult thing, to define one's self on a piece of paper. Can anyone, through one example, reveal his essence? Whatever words I can grasp will never have the richness of the emotion they are meant to convey. On the page my words look hollow, inadequate: "beauty," "pride," "pain," the words do not hold the intensity of the actual feelings. The image maybe there, but the feeling, the feeling must be experienced, and in each person it will be different. And whatever two hundred words I use will be scrutinized, will be ME in your eyes. How can I show you who I am in ten minutes when it has taken me every breath of the last seventeen years to even begin to ask myself the same question?
I am the honey-colored sounds of my grandmother’s grand piano on a Saturday morning when the family has gone out for breakfast.
I am the scent of burning leaves and smashed pumpkin, and I am the foggy breath off the top of the pond next door.
I am the scintillation of colored city lights as the car cradles across the bridge, the skidding of windshield wipers across drizzled glass, the streaking of each light into lines of pink.
I am the smack of spinning volleyball against sweaty forearms, the burning of elbow skin against a newly waxed gym floor.
I am the clean sting of chlorine and the tickle of freshly cut grass which clings to wet feet in the summertime.
I am a kaleidoscope of every breath, every shadow, every tone I have ever sensed.
I went on a canoe trip and stood under a pine tree watching the rain patter against the lake and felt the warm summer wind and thought that I had found absolute peace and perfection in one droplet of water.
I sang at a school talent show for the first time in my life after years of being stage-shy. The crowd was small and cozy, and the light was warm as the guitar hummed. I ignored my fear, because everything was perfect, and let myself be free and sang and sang…
I don’t know whether Ronald Reagan is good or bad.
People who argue that nuclear war is bad annoy me because they assume that someone on earth thinks that nuclear war is good, and avoid the real issue, which is how to prevent nuclear war.
I don’t understand people who hate camping. I hope that I never feel that business and politics are more real than a pine forest or an open plain.
Reality and perfection are in my mind synonymous. I think that the word is perfect. Even things which I hate are perfect because hatred is no less real an emotion than love. Famine is terrible, war is terrible, murder is terrible. But to say that nothing terrible should exist is denying everything this world contains. There cannot be wonderful without terrible. Pain is just as beautiful as joy, from an objective point of view.
The exciting thing for me is that I know that there is so much more for me to learn, and that everything I embrace as truth now is very small part of what I will eventually be able to recognize.
The terrible thing is that I know when I die I will not know a millionth of the knowledge which all people on earth collectively hold. No matter how many days I sit and read, research, engulf information, I will never be exposed to everything. And right now I want to be exposed to everything.
1.Philosophical, poetic young lady. The introductory paragraph is a bit histrionic; the next several reveal some beautiful appreciations and recognitions; the third last is confusing. The last two are honest and genuine. I’d take her into my honors program.
2.Absolutely wonderful. Insight, depth, expressiveness, clarity—all are part and parcel of this essay. Not only do we know the writer but we can understand her. P.S. Extremely well done.
College: Harvard University
Too Easy to Rebel\
In my mother’s more angry and disillusioned moods, she often declares that my sisters and I are “smarter than is good” for us, by which she means we are too ambitious, too independent-minded, and somehow, subtly un-Chinese. At such times, I do not argue, for I realize how difficult it must be for her and my father—having to deal with children who reject their simple idea of life and threaten to drag them into a future they do not understand.
For my parents, plans for our futures were very simple. We were to get good grades, go to good colleges, and become good scientists, mathematicians, or engineers. It had to do with being Chinese. But my sisters and I rejected that future, and the year I came home with Honors in English, History and Debate was a year of disillusion for my parents. It was not that they weren’t proud of my accomplishments, but merely that they had certain ideas of what was safe and solid, what we did in life. Physics, math, turning in homework, and crossing the street when Hare Krishnas were on our side—those things were safe. But the Humanities we left for Pure Americans.
Unfortunately for my parents, however, the security of that world is simply not enough for me, and I have scared them more than once with what they call my “wild” treks into unfamiliar areas. I spent one afternoon interviewing the Hare Krishnas for our school newspaper—and they nearly called the police. Then, to make things worse, I decided to enter the Crystal Springs Drama contest. For my parents, acting was something Chinese girls did not do. It smacked of the bohemian, and was but a short step to drugs, debauchery, and all the dark, illicit facets of life. They never did approve of the experience—even despite my second place at Crystal Springs and my assurances that acting was, after all, no more than a whim.
What I was doing when was moving away from the security my parents prescribed. I was motivated by my own desire to see more of what life had to offer, and by ideas I’d picked up at my Curriculum Committee meetings. This committee consisted of teachers who felt that students should learn to understand life, not memorize formulas; that somehow our college preparatory curriculum had to be made less rigid. There were English teachers who wanted to integrate Math into other more “important” science courses, and Math teachers who wanted to abolish English entirely. There were even some teachers who suggested making Transcendental Meditation a requirement. But the common denominator behind these slightly eccentric ideas was a feeling that the school should produce more thoughtful individuals, for whom life meant more than good grades and Ivy League futures. Their values were precisely the opposite of those my parents had instilled in me.
It has been a difficult task indeed for me to reconcile these two opposing impulses. It would be simple enough just to rebel against all my parents expect. But I cannot afford to rebel. There is too much that is fragile—the world my parents have worked so hard to build, the security that comes with it, and a fading Chinese heritage. I realize it must be immensely frustrating for my parents, with children who are persistently “too smart” for them and their simple idea of life, living in a land they have come to consider home, and yet can never fully understand. In a way, they have stopped trying to understand it, content with their own little microcosms. It is my burden now to build my own, new world without shattering theirs; to plunge into the future without completely letting go of the past. And that is a challenge I am not at all certain I can meet.
1.This is a good strong statement about the dilemma of being a part of two different cultures. The theme is backed by excellent examples of the conflict and the writing is clear, clean, and crisp. The essay then concludes with a compelling summary of the dilemma and the challenge it presents to the student.
2.A masterful job of explaining the conflict of being a child of two cultures. The writer feels strongly about the burden of being a first generation American, but struggles to understand her parents’ perspective. Ultimately she confesses implicitly that she cannot understand them and faces her own future. The language is particularly impressive: “It smacked of the bohemian,” “subtly unChinese,” and “a fading Chinese heritage.” That she is not kinder to her parents does not make her unkind, just determined.
College: University of Pennsylvania
If an undergraduate's time is spent eating, working, socializing, and sleeping, I expect that I'll spend large chunks of my time in the cafeteria, the libraries, and the dorms. My days will most definitely be hectic. As I run across the quad to my history class, I'll already be thinking of where I'll be heading after that.
Sometimes I'll be running to a big round table in the Food Court. This table seems to be a magnet for my eclectic friends. One of the guys, a saxophonist with whom I play the oboe in an ensemble, is trying to get his own avant-garde band some places to play. Another student writes an editorial column for the Daily Pennsylvanian; he always seems to be searching for a hot topic with which he can stir up a ruckus. A French major who sits next to me in French class uses French verbs in conversation, causing some confusion for the rest of us. We tend to talk about everything from the Beastie Boys to the controversy over political correctness. We sit for hours sharing our mashed potatoes and discussing activities to collectively embark on for the weekend. I suggest some rock climbing in the Shawangunks of New York State or an art show in Philadelphia.
After my extended repast, I'll be heading for a good place to study. When I have detailed notes to take on the reading for my Social History of China course, I know that the Quad will be way too busy and social for me to get any sizable amounts of work done. I'll have to slip away to the Furness Library. It is so quiet in there that you can hear the students breathing. In the other libraries there is too much commotion caused by people hustling around as they search for references. If I worked in the Van Pelt Library, I know I would speak to everyone who passed by my carrel. Given my extroverted nature, I am safer in a library like Furness.
At the end of my day, I'll be heading for my dorm, where the door to my room is hardly ever closed. The people who live in my dorm are definitely an energetic group. Just like molecules being heated in a beaker, they can't sit still. They bounce all over the dorm's halls, in and out of my room, telling me random ridiculous things as they procrastinate about their work. My roommate and I seem to be from different planets. She grew up in Poland, Maine, the small town where my camp was, and I grew up in the big city of Manhattan. At first I'll think that all we have in common is our passion for chocolate. But after living with her for a few weeks, I'll know that we were destined to be together. She'll know when she comes back from a day that just didn't go right at all that I will be there for her to complain to, and I'll understand. She'll do likewise for me. We'll make each other chicken noodle soup and coffee to keep us going on long nights of work. I'll help her decide whether she has a thesis for her paper on Macbeth and then proofread it for her. She'll explain to me again why humans can 't digest cellulose--and then try to convince me that it's better to get up early and work rather than stay up late. We'll order some takeout from her favorite Cantonese restaurant. At 2 a.m., on full stomachs, we'll get some sleep before our 9:00 classes, when once again I'll be rushing across Locust Walk to get to my history class, thinking about where I'll be heading after that.
The writer deals inventively with the difficult question "Why are you and this school a good match?" Instead of telling the admissions committee what they already know about the college's curriculum, athletic program, or academic reputation, she tells them what they do not know about: herself. She answers the question by imagining herself in a college routine. She then makes that routine specific to Penn through references to the school newspaper, campus buildings and walks, and a particular history course.
What she reveals about herself along the way from cafeteria to library to dorm gives this well-structured essay its zest. The reader learns that she plays the oboe, is a rock climber, goes to art shows, studies history, is extroverted, loves chocolate, treasures her roommate, does not fully understand why humans cannot digest cellulose, and happily digests Chinese takeout at 2 A.M. She is confident enough to write in her own voice, using informal language in an informal essay (''chunks of time,'' ''way too busy and social,'' ''random ridiculous things''). Her lively sense of language comes through in sentences such as, ''It is so quiet in [the Furness Library] that you can hear the students breathing,'' and in her comparison of her dorm neighbors to ''molecules being heated in a beaker.''
She is as specific about other details in the essay as she is about herself. The net effect of these well-chosen details--for instance, about her friends' varied interests or how she and her roommate cooperate in their work--suggests that the writer has long been attending the school to which she is applying. Such a commitment to a particular school will impress admissions officers.
College: Duke University
Question: Why do you consider Duke a good match for you?
“Tenting with Internet Access.” This concept epitomizes the balance between academics, athletics and enthusiasm that I have been seeking in my college experience and which has worked well for me during high school. While the Duke student body is spirited enough to participate in Krzyzewskiville, they are also committed to their academics. It is not sinks and showers they need, but outdoor internet hookups to continue to meet their academic challenges. Duke’s student population—intellectual, involved, and ethnically diverse—is one of the major reasons why the university is a good match for me.
My consideration for choosing Duke includes not only the quality f my four undergraduate years and classmates, but also my postgraduate goals. Duke will equip me to become a leader in my field by expanding my set of skills and enabling me to become involved in pharmaceutical research. With Research Triangle Park close by, I will definitely pursue and internship or a job at what Fortune Magazine described as “the top place in the U.S. to do business.” Duke offers a large number of exciting classes in the field of biology. I am most intrigued by the classes in genetics and cellular biology.
With all that Duke offers its students, I would be very committed to giving back to the community. Having had such learning and service opportunities as the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Program and the Economic Leadership Summer Program at Northwestern University, I feel that I can make a positive impact within the Duke community. I would hope to continue my commitment to disabled children through Pegasus or a similar organization.
College: Washington State University
Every Little Girl’s Dream
Every little girl’s dream is to become a dancer. It was my dream as well.
At the age of seven I entered the dance world, and attended beginning ballet class every Saturday morning for one brief hour a Susan Cooper’s School of the Dance in Mt. Vernon for little dancers. I remember how I felt at my first lesson, excited and scared, with visions of myself in the distant future as a prima ballerina in a glorious spangled pink tutu. I continued to dance, advancing slowly by levels each year, adding then multiplying the hours that I invested at the barre. By age ten, I was dancing six hours a week, while my peers back at school were playing basketball and discussing boys. At lunch, everyone talked about what happened at practice and whether the coll boy in the match class would come to the birthday party. I lived and breathed ballet; their interest and mine no longer converged. As I increased my hours spent in the studio, my feeling of being an outcast increased proportionally.
Dancing was not a hobby to me, it became what I lived for. I did not care that I had little in common with my classmates; I enjoyed my isolation because the feeling that I had my first ballet class was still inside me. I was going to be a professional dancer, and I would do anything to achieve that goal. That tutu changed to sweaty rehearsal clothes, leg warmers, and tattered toe shoes. Ballet lessons four times a week. The basement room in my 0parents’ house became my practice room and the Ping-Pong table was a substitute barre. In addition to my winter work, I attended intensive summer dance camps for three years, concentrated dance training taught by professional dancers from all over the world. These summer programs not only improved my dancing skills, but also they gave me a sense of self-discipline and independence that has stayed with me to the present.
The climax of my dancing career was my acceptance to the Pacific Northwest Ballet Summer School in 1983. I was thirteen with braces and stars in my eyes. I can still remember the day I auditioned, the first time that I had been surrounded by serious competition. I thought that there was no chance of my being accepted. When the letter of acceptance came in the mail, I was shocked, amazed, and very pleased because I was accepted to the “elite” ballet school in Washington State. My success gave me the incentive to work even harder at my hometown ballet school; I knew I had to push myself in order for me to be able to compete with the other dancers.
The day finally arrived for me to go to Seattle where I would begin the six best weeks of my life. I learned new skills, a fierce independence, and continuous discipline. My urge to be a ballerina grew stronger and stronger. At the end of the six weeks, students were evaluated on their performance and a select few were offered the chance to continue through the year. I was so proud to be chosen. The decision was not hard, although I realized that I had to leave home, parents, and friends for a time. I knew that was the price I was going to pay if I really wanted to dance.
I moved to my new home with Debra Hadly, one of the principal ballerinas in the company. I began my new regime: three hours a day, six days a week, at the same time attending a demanding all-girls Catholic School, Holy Name Academy. It was a special year, not only for me but also for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, because the company worked feverishly to produce the world premiere performance of Maurice Sendak’s The Nutcracker Suite, a re-creation of story, costumes, scenery, sets and choreography. Without much confidence I attended the auditions, hoping for a part. My wish was granted with two fairly demanding roles: part of the Calvary and a Scrim Mouse. I was ecstatic! Even though I would have to spend every weekend in Seattle for rehearsals, I did not care. I lived and breathed the exciting world of professional ballet. Opening night was sheer magic. Exhausted but delirious with accomplishment, I did my homework in backstage corners in between rehearsals.
Unfortunately, the Nutcracker also marked the beginning of my failure as a dancer. I began to worry about my competition than about my self-improvement. My body began to take the shape of a normal teenager rather than that of dancer. I found that I really missed being connected with my mother, a crucial part of a young teenage girl’s life. By mid-April I was depressed; I had put on fifteen pounds and dancing no longer made me happy. It was time for me to do some serous evaluating of my situation. I met with the head of the Ballet School and with my mother many times, and I finally concluded that it was time to give up dance. This was the hardest decision of my life. It led to a good year of finding a “new” Shelley. I felt that someone had taken away the past fourteen years of my life and I had to start all over. It was an extremely hard time for me, but with the encouraging support of my mother and close friends, I pulled out of it, I worked hard to become a normal teenaged girl. I learned to liked football games, parties, cheerleading, friends, and good times. I also learned to like myself once more.
When I look back at what I had to go through and what I gave up to become a dancer and then at my decision to leave the world of ballet, I wonder how I made it through my fifteenth year. I have come out of that black period of my life with a great many personal strengths. I have talents other than dancing; I am a strong independent, and caring person. I have met with depression and have turned my failure into success. Somewhere in the black corner of my head lives a pink tutu, but my years as a dancer are behind me and I am ready to take on new challenges.
College: University of Chicago
I wanted to draw in the rain. It was not really rain, just a lot of people in raincoats trying to make each other believe that they were hiding from the sky for a reason. Well, maybe it was a bit wet, but no one seemed to notice that there were many more people on the streets than there would have been had it really been raining. Real rain would drown out the city with noise, wash pigeons into drains, sweep cats straight into the river, tip over garbage cans and float the trash away, and leave red marks wherever raindrops hit bare skin. This barely had distinguishable drops; there seemed a strange continuity to this rain, as if it were an extraordinarily dense mist, or a very airy river that was flowing out of the sky and oozing onto the ground rather than, as real rain would have done, attacking the ground like a machine gun.
It wasn’t even dark. When I came out of the school building I had to blink my eyes, to let them adjust, in exactly the same way that I had almost every day since school had begun. I had my umbrella open, of course. Everybody had their umbrellas open. Everybody was wearing a raincoat, too. Everybody was hunched forward, shoulders tensed. None of them cast a shadow, but that was their own fault. Of course, I had no shadow either. Was I afraid of embarrassment?
Yet this light, from a sun ineffectively hidden by translucent clouds, was interesting in a way. When figures are equally lit from all directions, they become weird creatures, gray and colorless without becoming less lively. It was the illusion of rain that made them less lively. I thought about how I could draw objects without shadowing, how to describe contours on a uniformly gray mass.
Looking up, I was distracted by the view down the street. If drawing objects without details seemed hard, how much harder would infinite details be? As I liked down the street, and the facades of building formed unreproduceable angles toward the horizon, and the windows were placed in patterns so complex that it would take days to sort them out, and every iron railing on the steps was a work of art, I felt like crying.
I was quiet. Around me the city was unhurried but loud, except at moments when it grew silent and rushed past me. I felt the urge to paint the whole scene with one explosive stroke of a brush. It was clear before me, a true vision calling me out to be expressed, by the sudden release of boundless energy his vision could be communicated to the world. I didn’t move. The energy was there, perhaps, but only if it were controlled and manipulated could this vision, if it were such, be expressed. That was the root of real power. The people I know who are powerful intellects all have this ability: to sustain their energy over extended periods, directing it to their purpose.
Only at rare moments do I feel intellectually powerful enough to sustain an artistic vision over the time that it takes to actually execute a drawing. Only then the execution itself requires a further insight can I remain in the state of excitement that the original idea provokes. As I improve in skill I find that this further insight happens more and more often, for I am more able to approach each line, each brush stroke, with renewed spontaneity.
In writing, this spontaneity is easier to achieve, for it is more obviously necessary. Because any piece of writing is broken up into paragraphs and sentences, and by the progression of an action or an idea, it is impossible to conceptualize the entirety of a piece before it is physically written. At the very least, word and syntax choices must be made as they arise. At best, a work grows in the writing to be better than its conception. And because each word presents a new challenge, I often feel the excitement which prompts me to begin drawing only after I begin writing. As I write I build momentum and confidence, until I reach a peak of concentration. All barriers to achievement seem to melt before me, and words and ideas come forth.
It is at these moments that I feel intellectually and artistically powerful: subtle and sophisticated, exercising immense control over a boundless force.
College: Harvard University
A few months ago, I looked in the mirror and saw, as usual, a youngish face, which I perceived as about twelve, maybe thirteen years old. Bt this time I realized a deeper reason for that perception: I actually identified myself, my mind and personality, with the boy I was at that age. So, I struggled with the question, “How do I differ from that seventh-grader?” distinguishing between my thoughts then and my thoughts now perplexed me: I recalled a similar way of working, intellectual capacity, and motivations. Yet the problem gnawed at me because I knew something fundamental had changed in me. After all, I was looking on that seventh-grader as a distinct personality. But why did I? What distinguished him from me? I realized eventually that the difference between that seventh-grader and me was that, since seventh grade, I ad gained an outlook, a way of examining the broader world I had never considered before. The separation was clear: before the spring of tenth grade, I had lived but had never really examined life. Nigel Calder’s Einstein’s Universe finally ignited my mind with ardent inquiry.
Calder’s lucid but mentally taxing explanation of Einstein’s theories forced my perspective to dilate many times over. Instead of thinking in feet and miles, suddenly my fifteen-year-old mind was trying to consider millions of light years, curved space, hopping from star to black hole and back to Earth. Naturally, I was not entirely successful, but more important, the experience plunged me into a new realm of thought, visions of the vast universe floating in my mind. At first, thinking of the astronomical expanse, I delved into the obvious questions of ultimate meaning, an exceedingly elusive goal. Yet because of this errant speculation, my mind was still churning with my new view, an extremely expanded perspective about life on earth which impelled me to find out about the universal principles of existence.
Now, more than ever, I gravitated toward science. Before reading Einstein’s Universe and undertaking my mental voyage, I had been interested in science because it was tidy, neat. Suddenly, that interest was ablaze with a passion for truth, knowledge, and not just in science. The hazy ideas that history was a study in human failure and triumph, that literature laid bare the human experience, and that science, science would reveal unifying principles of our chaotic, swirling existence burst from mist into light. In the eleventh grade, the logic of evolution, the wonder of genetics, the grand design of physiology all seemed the more magnificent because they were natural consequences of chemistry. That year, inspired by the potential of biology for finding truth about man, I made my career choice: genetic research, the area in which I think I could make the greatest strides in doing the higher good as human being, contributing to society. My physics teacher this year has taught me an even greater principle: science merely describes the real world and cannot be mistaken for absolute truth.
Ultimately, experiencing Einstein’s Universe incited me to contemplate truly for the first time to reevaluate my fundamental beliefs and form those which have made me more confident and peaceful than ever. Recently, I looked in the mirror at a yougist face, still a boy’s, but now that face conceals a vision more expansive than the seventh-grader ever imagined.
College: Dartmouth College
Question: Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
December 30, 1982: My parents, my uncle, and I were flying home from visiting family during the Christmas holidays when I was one year old. We were in my father’s small plane and planned on landing at an airport near our home in Vermont. There was zero visibility but a light on the instrument panel indicated that we were approaching the airstrip. Everything went dark suddenly, and the plane started shaking as if it were being enveloped by a tornado. My father had miscalculated our altitude, and we had dropped below the tree line. We crashed into a thick forest. Both wings were ripped off by the large pine trees, the woods clawed at us until we smashed into a tree, killing my father.
Although the death of my father was almost impossible to come to terms with for my family, everyone who knew him felt he had lived each day to its fullest and that he would not have regretted a minute of his life. He tinkered with electronics in high school, building a robot in his free time. He took a year off from college to devote himself to campaigning for a politician in whom he believed strongly. He created a computer program, which was revolutionary at the time that could help analyze the demographics of voting districts. My father installed a wood stove and built a solar hot-water system on our house, so that we only had to pay $2.00 for fuel during the oil crisis. All of these accomplishments are what many people dream about and never have the drive or confidence to try. If my father had put these things off he never would have felt fulfilled.
At the same time, I have also grown up with a screaming hole in my life; a chasm that is so deep it forces me to take notice. It reinforces how easy it is for someone’s life to be so fulfilled one day and suddenly over the next.
By understanding the fragile nature of life, I realize how important it is to appreciate all that is around me while I have it. This is to my advantage because since I have grown up with this understanding, I have taken a positive, happy outlook. I can be fascinated by street sewers and where they lead to at the age of three, to the concepts that underlie calculus and advanced physics. When my peers ask me how I can be cheerful in the physics class at 8:00 in the morning or when it is 3:00 A.M. and I am not yet finished with my history term paper, I never know how to respond rationally. Should I tell them it is because my father died when I was one year old? I think they would not understand.
Although I cannot recall my father on a personal level, he has inspired me for the seventeen years of my life. I know I am on a mission to live my life to the fullest, to inspire others with my enthusiasm for all things bright and beautiful, and to appreciate every moment just as he had.